Plurisensorial Device to prevent occupational disease (POD)

The problem addressed

A report of the Scientific Committee on Occupational Exposure Limits (SCOEL) highlights that work-related exposures are estimated to account for about 15% of all adult respiratory diseases. Volatile organic compounds (VOC) are within working environment one of the highest cause of asthma, lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cystic fibrosis (CF), and respiratory tract infections. In 2011 INAIL drew a report on occupational diseases showing that the working places with the highest percentage of respiratory diseases are agriculture, manufacturing and transportation sectors. Among those, the manufacturing sector with 5172 cases of respiratory diseases in 2010 is the most dangerous one. According to the International Labour office the best way to reduce the number of risks and of disease is, besides information, the prevention both for the workers and for the employer.

There are two levels of prevention: (i) environmental monitoring and (ii) the use of personal protective equipment. The present research proposal aims at developing a novel concept to prevent respiratory diseases inside the specific working environment of a coating plant. The choice of a coating plant is considered strategic for the project execution for two main reasons. Workers of this environment are highly exposed to the inhalation of several damaging agents (voc, organic dust, chemical contaminants, paints, varnishes) that cause respiratory disease. The high level of ratio between number of operators and sales volumes all over Europe.

The objective of the project will be to design and prototype a plurisensorial wearable device with protective purpose, able to detect the air quality and the health conditions of the workers. The product will be also equipped with a device able to alert the user of hazardous conditions (voc evaporation or breathing problems) and to transmit the monitored data to the control room. The project will be developed exploiting technological solutions already/today adopted in medical field (i.e wearable monitoring systems for physiological parameters) and military ones (i.e the electronic nose developed by Nasa).

Keywords: occupational disease respiratory protection

Research questions

The proposal aims at creating a wearable interface for monitoring the workers” health status surrounding environment potential risk sources, giving him/her useful real-time information and/or alarms, as well as allowing data transmission with a body gateway enabling to share information and a possible high level risk management service.
The hypotheses of this research is to design a wearable system made up of three elements:

  • A smart shirt for the measurement of the main physiological parameters (heart rate and breathing);
  • A protective mask (mandatory for workers) with the integration of air quality detection sensors;
  • A bracelet or body gateway to receive signals from the devices and alert the user (vibration, lights, text) about his/her conditions and air quality.
The project has two main issues to address: a design one and a functional/technological one. From the design point of view, the challenge will be to design both a mask and a smart shirt, which are easily adaptable to the different body sizes, unobtrusive, aesthetically pleasant and comfortable to wear. From a functional point of view, one of the most
important problems to face will be to design electronic circuitry that is safe, reliable and able to perform during working. Furthermore, air detection sensors integrated in mask need to be as small and light as possible.

Scientific disciplines: ergonomics

Expected outputs

The goal impacts of the project is to improve the safety of workers by empowering them with wearable sensing and transmission systems that monitor their health, activity, and their environment. The research intends to increase the detection of occupational respiratory diseases inside Coating Plants.

Both the workers and the employer will benefit from such a system because the worker will be updated in real time if something is going wrong with his/her health and the employer will know if the working place is safe enough and can adopt precautionary measures in case of a dangerous environment. The functional and tested prototype and the other results of the project will be transferred to the stakeholders. Indeed, the company Comftech (involved in the project) is willing to manufacture and further develop these results into a commercial product.


Participating researchers

Francesco Trabucco (Politecnico di Milano, Italy) — project coordinator

Kaspar Jansen (Industrial Design Engineering faculty, Technical University of Delft, The Netherlands)

Funding organizations

INAIL (Italy)

More details

Duration 2015-01 to 2017-01
Contact email
More information

Information last updated on 2017-03-22.

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